Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Tenth Day of Christmas Janury 3, 2009

The Tenth Day of Christmas
January 3, 2009
Chistmas Stories at Lake Wales, Florida
This was a forest scene in the upstairs hall at Pinewood Estate.
All the forest animals await Santa's arrival in quiet anticipation listening to the tick tock of the grandfather's clock.
Today I will tell you two brief stories that I played a part in long ago in school. Be fair warned that the stories are now inappropriate. Why? Because I would never in a million years do today in a public school what I did back in the sixties and early seventies in school. You ask what I did that was inappropriate? Well, I celebrated the story of Jesus as if every child in my class was a Christian. In today's diverse world that is not the case.
Story Number One
The Setting: Huffman Elementary School on Huffman Avenue
In Dayton, Ohio
Fresh out of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio I landed my first teaching assignment on the east side of Dayton which was all white at the time. (You would go across a bridge to the west side of Dayton and you would be in Dayton's version of Harlem which was all black.) Anyway Huffman Elementary School was at that time in the fall of 1966 the oldest school building still in use in Dayton, Ohio. By the year 1973 I believe Huffman School would be 100 years old and Miss Tetslaff, the sweet little spinster who taught right next door to me would have taught at that very school for 50 years and of those 50 years 49 would be in the very same classroom! Totally amazing. The first time I walked into her classroom I saw these very faded nursery rhyme pictures nailed to the blackboard bulletin board.The little kids in the illustrations looked like wholesome little kids from Campbell soup ads from the thirties. If you got near these pictures and blew on them, they would disintegrate into small particles and land on the floor. How old was Miss Tetslaff? I don't know but I reckon she was fast approaching seventy five. In fact one of the eighth grade teachers at this K-8 school who was in his mid thirties had her at Huffman as his first grade teacher.
Does Miss Tetslaff figure in the story? No, but she was such a character that I just had to put her into the intro to this story. But this side of Dayton had a sizable Polish population and another teacher at my school was Linda Sobieski who lived right in the neighborhood and went to the Catholic University of Dayton before landing a first grade classroom down in the basement of this school. She liked it down there because the principal seldom made it to the classroom by the boiler room so she and her students could be very noisy at times. Meanwhile, I was next door to Miss Tetslaff and just down the way from the Principal's office, so I had to keep a lid on the noise in my classroom. Oh-ooh, here comes the principal now thru the back entrance to the classroom which was the old, old cloakroom! I swear that many times I felt like I was reliving Laura Ingalls in her teaching days because the school was truly an architectural antique.
So in the fall of my first year of teaching Linda Sobieski approached me and asked if I would like to go in with her class to recreate the Christmas story for the December meeting of the Huffman PTA. I said OK and so we selected students to play all the parts from singing angels and talking shepherds to the three wise men. The leads of course went to Mary and Joseph. Jesus was played by some little girl's doll baby wrapped in a blanket and set in a mock manger filled with straw. Everyone learned their part for the play. It was now very close to Christmas and the last day of school before the Christmas Holiday (that's what the vacation was called in 1966) but the big play production for the PTA was on the agenda for that very day when Linda ran into my classroom and announced that she and I had a major play fiasco on our hands. I remember that I asked her what the problem was and I'll never forget her answer: Joseph, Mary's husband had run off to Kentucky with his parents!
Joseph's in Kentucky! Oh, my gosh, how will the play go on I asked Linda. She replied that quick, we must get a brand new Joseph and he better be smart and learn his part and lines in a flash! We found a new Joseph and he did a fine job in our little play and all was well once more. Linda's parting thought after the play was this. Don't ever Joann choose a child whose parents just came up to Dayton, Ohio to work in the '60's very robust GM auto parts factory in Moraine because those Kentucky folks are only here for the money and they miss their families in the hills and hollows of Kentucky and you just know that they will skip school and head down interstate #75 before school vacation actually starts. Ahhhhhh.....those were the good old days in Dayton, Ohio. The auto parts industry was going strong and it was not inappropriate to stage a Christmas play in a public school or to wish folks a Merry Christmas and a happy Christmas vacation.
Story Number Two
Setting: My first year of teaching first grade to the DOD dependent children and the state department children in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Here's another inappropriate school incident in my classroom. At Frankfurt Elementary School #1 which has since reverted back to being a German school since there are no U.S. military now stationed in the city of Frankfurt which Gen. Eisenhower selected as his Army headquarters in Europe at the famous I.G. Farben Chemical Complex. Now the I.G. Farben Building with its oh, so famous pater noster elevator is a part of Goethe University. My, how the world changes if you live long enough to witness it!
So it is Christmas once again in Germany in 1970 and I have decided to have the students help me decorate my main bulletin board which was located by the door to my classroom so everyone coming down the hall could see this display. I loved having the students create the art work for this bulletin board and we would always come up with something that was both interesting and very attractive. I would line the background of the board with appropriate scenery, create the word heading and assign students to create the figures in front by drawing and cutting out their artistic creations.
Ok, so you guys will create the shepherds, OK, you folks can make the angels, who wants to do one of the three kings?, who wants to draw some cute baby sheep?, we need some shepherds too. So as each child finished his morning seatwork while I conducted three old fashioned reading groups that morning they would place their drawing on my desk for me to later staple on the board. As I was taking the drawings to the board and stapling them into the scene there was one little drawing that I just couldn't quite figure out. Was it a donkey? Was it a sheep? What was it? So I called the child up and asked what his assignment had been. He told me he was supposed to draw a shepherd. But this looks like an animal not a shepherd. Oh, no, Miss Gariety, this does look like a shepherd. A German shepherd!
I learned to my surprise that this little boy had a German shepherd as a pet and yes, he had drawn for me a shepherd. So that is how in 1970 a drawing of a German shepherd was the hit of my Christmas bulletin board display. Word spread quickly thru the teacher grapevine and everyone stopped in to see my German shepherd at the nativity scene. Even the Principal, Mr. Mebane came by to take a look and shake his head, have a little laugh and give me a sly wink.
The twelve days of Christmas plus one are fast coming to a close for yet another year. But remember, it is not over, till is over in the wisdom of Yogi Berra so get out this weekend and do something special for the Christmas holidays.


Anonymous said...

It is a very interesting post. I remember some of it and the school houses and how they changed as the student population changes.

I traveled through the West Side for years and watched it change. I also remember Salem Avenue to downtown when it was totally different than it is today. I think the city is largely responsible for the city and has been remiss in enforcing housing and other ordinances. I know the schools have changed a lot over the years and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting blog! I found it by chance when I was searching for Frankfurt Ele School #1. I attended with my sibs from 1978-81.
I'm also a teacher, so your story really appealed to me and gave me a chuckle! I live in VA, also. Thanks for posting your amusing annecdote! :)

Khrista said...

I just posted as anonymous...I had Ms. Mitchell for 2nd, Ms. Jackson for 3rd, and Mr. Hughes for 4th. Ms. Mitchell was the best teacher ever, although very strict! She did things that would land me quickly in jail. :)